Vine Street Living Waters is poised to be a mission on the rise.
By Gregory Rumburg
More than a billion people around the world don’t have access to pure water. With the recent formation of Vine Street Living Waters, that problem will change for some folks in Middle Tennessee and abroad. And while Vine Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) regularly makes financial contributions to effect change globally, this mission project is the first involving international, boots-on-the-ground service for the congregation in several years.
A ripple begins
As an outreach effort of Vine Street Christian Church, Vine Street Living Waters aims to address poor access to pure water regionally and internationally by partnering with communities to build low tech, highly-effective water purification systems. This mission work is in partnership with Spring Hill, Tennessee-based Living Waters for the World (LWW), a ministry of the Presbyterian Church, USA.
The genesis moment for the project came from water:360, a series of events facilitated by the Rev. Thomas Kleinert in the fall of 2012. An occasional set of programs, 360s focus on a particular theme and explore it from many perspectives. Past topics included hunger, homelessness, prisons and aging. Introducing water:360, Thomas wrote, “We may well have discovered [in water] the one thing that touches every dimension of our life: physical, spiritual, political, economical, theological. Can you name one aspect of life that doesn’t participate in water’s flow?” Steve Young, executive director of Living Waters for the World, was one of the speakers Thomas selected to address the church on the topic.
“When Steve spoke to Vine Street, several of us were moved. It sounded like something we could be involved in,” Jack Wallace says. “That’s when the seed was sown.” Joe Cheng and his wife, Rebecca Bachschmidt, were among early supporters, too.
“I saw the series moving others the way it moved me and felt it was a calling for our church,” Joe says.
Soon, it was like hydrogen molecules were bonding with oxygen molecules and the tributary conversations that would eventually form Vine Street Living Waters began to flow. As the calendar cascaded from 2012 to 2013, conversations about committing to a partnership with Living Waters for the World became more concrete. Vine Street’s Official Board was brought into the loop. And in the fall of 2013, the initial Concert for Clean Water fundraiser was held at Vine Street to raise seed money for the project. Songwriter and Vine Street member Gabe Dixon, along with songwriters Julie Lee and Erin Enderlin, filled the evening’s bill, raising around $3,200. As a result, the project gained momentum among the congregation, and in 2014, a commitment was made to develop Vine Street Living Waters as a mission effort of the church. Contributions continue to be received from congregational participants and from the Nashville-area community.
Service near home and abroad
While the partnership between Vine Street and Living Waters for the World is new, it’s a model that has precedent among churches and civic organizations from coast to coast. In fact, a similar partnership exists less than a block away. Westminster Presbyterian Church, Vine Street’s West End neighbors, has been partnering with Living Waters for the World for several years. At the suggestion of Young, Vine Street and Westminster struck up an alliance as Vine Street launched its program.
Westminster takes a two-prong approach to its mission. It operates internationally in Peru and regionally in Macon County, Tenn. Vine Street will take a similar approach, identifying soon an international partner while initially working in Macon County. A project there is in the works now says Joanne Jewett. She and Rebecca accompanied Westminster on a visit to the northeastern Tennessee county in the spring.
“We were surprised by the number of homes in the area that did not have city water,” Joanne says. “It’s a very rural area and most people outside of the town rely on well water,” which is, in some cases, of poor quality. “We began to process how we might identify a person or family in need,” she says. With one individual, Vine Street Living Waters is in the process of following Living Waters for the World-directed steps for verifying a bona fide partner.
Meanwhile, Vine Street has a long history of sharing its financial resources abroad. For example, it’s a steadfast supporter of Week of Compassion, the disaster relief and humanitarian assistance program of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. But with Vine Street Living Waters, this is the first time in many years the church has committed to mission-related international travel. To get a taste of the experience, Joe Cheng and Ted Parks accompanied Westminster’s Living Waters team to Peru in May.
“Seeing the actual implementation was a good healthy dose of realism for me,” Joe says. “We feel so compelled to help those who appear the neediest, but forget that there is also a need for a sustainable system that does not fall apart when you leave to go home. For Living Waters to work, we need to help those who can also help themselves and maintain and sustain the system and access to clean water we are helping them get.”
There are many factors involved with selecting an international partner. Vine Street Living Waters participants are now in conversation with Living Waters for the World and with contacts within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) so that a country in which to work and a partner may be selected.
Building a team
Clean Water U is the training school of Living Waters for the World. In April, Rebecca Bachschmidt, Joe Cheng, Jim ClenDening, Joanne Jewett, Bob Lyons and Nancy & Thomas Kleinert attended Clean Water U outside of Oxford, Mississippi. Ted Parks, Jacob Parks, Alex Carls and Greg Rumburg attended CWU in northern California in June.
Soon, Vine Street Christian Church participants will have an opportunity to learn from these folks and to be trained for Vine Street Living Waters fieldwork. Ted Parks, who was also an early advocate for the cause, is developing a Sunday morning adult education program for early next year.
“And our children want to be involved!” Nancy Kleinert shares. Keying off materials from Living Waters for the World, Nancy has created five-minute weekly lessons to be shared during Vine Time. “We call these 5-minute lessons ‘Water Drops.’ They will educate and emphasize appreciation for and the importance of clean water that flows to our own homes daily and how we can help others get clean water, too.” Similarly, the Rev. Hope Hodnett spent a day in Macon County with representatives from Westminster anticipating the ways our teenagers may contribute to the cause.
Previously, after Vine Street community members returned from mission trips to places like New Orleans and Detroit, they shared stories about helping others. But more, they noted how they grew spiritually and emotionally from the experience. Joe Cheng believes Vine Street Living Waters will foster similar experiences.
“It will be another bond for us to share as Christians and it will bring our church family closer together,” Joe says. “I don’t really think we know how important something like access to clean water is until we have to do without, and being a part of this project makes us realize how blessed we really are. I feel this will give us another opportunity to do work in Christ’s name, and it will allow us to work together and share in the collaboration.”
(This story is an expanded version of "Rolling Waters," published in the Oct./Nov. 2014 edition of The Vine.)